On Wednesday, March 11, The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus (COVID-19) a pandemic. Since the virus has been said to spread via person-to-person transmission, the WHO as well as other health organizations around the world are now releasing guidelines for contact tracing of the virus.
According to CNN, “A key part of the United States’ coronavirus containment strategy is an epidemiological tool called contact tracing: Find sick people, isolate them and then trace everyone with whom they’ve been in contact and put those people into quarantine.”
As per the New Zealand Ministry of Health, contact tracing involves finding people who have been exposed to the virus via close and casual contact.
What Is Close and Casual Contact?
A case is considered as potentially infectious 48 hours prior to developing symptoms, while symptomatic, and until symptom-free for 48 hours. A close contact is anyone who has had one of the following interactions with a case (person) while the case is infectious:
- Living in the same household or household-like setting (eg, in a hostel) as a COVID-19 case
- Spending two hours or longer in the same room, bus or train as a COVID-19 case
- Sitting within two rows on either side of a COVID-19 case on a flight for two hours or longer
- Having been face-to-face within one meter or less (approximately 3 feet) of the case for more than 15 minutes in any other setting not listed above
Conversely, a casual contact is someone who has been exposed to someone with a case but doesn’t meet the criteria for a close contact. For example, if they came close to the person with COVID-19 or a suspected case for less than 15 minutes, or were at the same place but not near them.
Combatting the Spread: Containment and Mitigation
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert at the National Institutes of Health, said that there could be limits to contact tracing now that there’s been an increase in community spread.
“We’re seeing community spread, and whenever you see community spread, you can do contact tracing, but [with] more community spread it becomes logistically more difficult,” he said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press.
Beyond people’s efforts to trace contacts and isolate sick people, Fauci said we may have to shift our strategies to stricter forms of containment and mitigation.
Similarly, on Sunday, Dr. Jerome Adams, the US Surgeon General, explained mitigation calls for large-scale measures beyond tracing, isolating, and quarantining.
“Should we be canceling large gatherings? What are our telework policies? Should we be closing schools? And that’s going to be different in Seattle than what it’s going to be in Jackson, Mississippi,” Adams said on CNN’s State of the Union.
In fact, schools across the US are taking precautionary measures by going remote for the remainder of the academic year, music festivals and events are being canceled in order to prevent community spread through large, public gatherings, and countries are banning inner-country and overseas travel.